Pakistan's cash-strapped government on Monday presented a bill in Parliament to authorise funds for holding snap elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in line with the directives issued by the Supreme Court despite rejecting the apex court's decision on the matter.
The tabling of the bill by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar comes hours before the deadline given by the Supreme Court for the disbursal of Rs 21 billion to the election commission to hold the polls ends.
The bill titled "Charged Sums for General Elections of Provincial Assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bill 2023" was presented in both houses of Parliament — National Assembly and Senate The apex court last week ordered the government to provide Rs 21 billion to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) by April 10 to enable it to organise polls.
Elections are due to be held on May 14 in Punjab but the date for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa elections has not been decided as yet.
The government had rejected the decision by the court on provincial elections but in a Cabinet meeting on Sunday decided to seek approval from Parliament for funds.
While presenting the bill in the National Assembly, the finance minister said that it is now the responsibility of Parliament to decide whether funds to ECP should be released or not.
Dar said snap polls ordered by the apex court were not in the national interest due to security, and economic situation.
“Elections in all assemblies should be held on the same date,” the finance minister said, adding that the government laid this bill before the parliament in light of the Supreme Court’s orders to release Rs 21 billion to the ECP.
The finance minister said the coalition government fully believes in the supremacy of the parliament and rule of law and the Constitution.
Dar maintained that conducting elections is a constitutional responsibility, but it requires that polling for national and all the provincial assemblies is held simultaneously under caretaker setups.
He said this will not only reduce expenditures but also ensure free, fair, and transparent elections.
He recalled that former premier Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf regime had brought the country to the verge of default by violating the sovereign commitments made with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), adding that this also harmed the credibility of Pakistan.
Pakistan is in danger of defaulting on its debt, with an IMF bailout programme stalled since November, while a bruising political battle is raging between the government and Khan.
The cash-strapped nation is in dire need of funds with its foreign exchange reserves hovering around USD 4.2 billion which provides barely one month of import cover.
National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf referred the bill to the NA standing committee concerned while adjourning the session till Thursday 2 pm.
Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, after the bill was presented, asked the members to submit notices by April 13 for the proposal to make recommendations on the bill and adjourned the session till 10 am on Friday (April 14).
It is not clear if the presentation of the bill in Parliament would be sufficient to meet the court orders of releasing funds by April 10. What is clear, however, is that the political instability is not going to end and the economic situation will remain fragile.
Meanwhile, the Dawn newspaper reported that the bill states that the required funds for the elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa shall be “an expenditure charged upon the Federal Consolidated Fund”, which it said comprises all revenues received by the federal government, all loans raised by that government and all money received by it in repayment of any loan.
It also states that it shall “override other laws” and have effect “notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, rules and regulations” when it was in force.
It added that the proposed law would stand repealed once the elections to both the assemblies were held, noting that the general elections and polls to the Sindh and Balochistan assemblies need not be held for it to be repealed. PTI SH NSA AKJ NSA
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